O'Brother, Where Art Thou ?
|George Clooney||Everett McGill|
|Tim Blake Nelson||Delmar|
|Charles Durning||Governor of Louisiana|
|Michael Badalucco||Babyface Nelson|
|Directed by||Joel Coen, Ethan Coen|
People love it or hate it. The Times gave it a rave. Entertainment Weekly gave it an F and labeled it the worst picture of the year.
Trust me (even though you should never trust anyone who says ?trust me?): this is a wonderful movie. The Coen Brothers have made a slyly crafted, joyously eclectic picaresque road/buddy movie drawn from sources as diverse as Preston Sturges and Homer, The Wizard of Oz, The Court Jester, It Happened One Night, Gunga Din, some Leni Riefenstahl, some Busby Berkeley, and maybe even a little Jean-Luc Godard. Does that sound crowded? It's just the tip of the iceberg.
?Based,? a title card announces, ?on The Odyssey by Homer.? This odyssey starts with three convicts escaping a chain gang in the Depression-era Mississippi Delta, and setting off after buried loot. They?re Ulysses (George Clooney) and his dim-witted companions Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Along the way they run into a gallery of Homeric rogues -- an old blind seer (Lee Weaver); three sirens (Mia Tate, Musetta Vander, Christy Taylor) who lull them, rob them, and turn one of them into a frog; a rascally one-eyed Bible salesman (John Goodman); Ulysses?s wife Penny (Holly Hunter), not quite as steadfast and true as her classical counterpart. Also livening the landscape are characters suggesting legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson (Chris Thomas King); Jimmie Davis, who wrote ?You Are My Sunshine? and served a couple of terms as Governor of Louisiana (Charles Durning); and a bi-polar Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco).
This is a musical, and the music is terrific. The centerpiece is the recording of ?Man of Constant Sorrow? cut by Ulysses and his confederates under the moniker ?The Soggy Bottom Boys? at a little radio station. The genius of the Coens is to temper their gleeful extravagances with the unwinking straightforwardness of the music, which swells on the sountrack with studio values even when it?s being sung al fresco.
The movie?s title comes from the Preston Sturges classic Sullivan?s Travels; it?s the social message film that Hollywood director Sullivan (Joel McCrea) wants to make for the common people when he goes out in search of the ?real? Depression America, only to discover that the common people would rather laugh than be reminded of their misery.
The Coens understand that. Laughter surges through this movie like water bursting from a dam. Some of the scenes may seem a bit over the top, but they?re really more around the bend. They?re held in line by disciplined direction and beautifully-tuned acting. There?s almost a quality of down-home magic realism to this movie, a blend of cartoon, classicism, and social commentary, expertly filmed in yellowish nostalgic tones by Roger Deakins. Some of it makes little sense individually, but there?s a perfect sense to it overall.
The linchpin to the whole project is George Clooney?s remarkable Ulysses Everett McGill. This is a risk-taking Clooney you?ve never seen, a pomaded dandy with raffish Gable looks and a silver tongue given to locutions like ?It?s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.? If you weren?t sure before, the jury is now in: George Clooney is a first-rate talent. So are the Coens. If there?s an F here, it?s for Fabulous.
© Text 2006 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be